Saturday, July 25, 2015

Technique: Make Your Own Croutons

The other day, I was shopping at Trader Joe's and was in need for croutons. For a 4 oz bag of croutons, you're going to need to shell out $2.99. That's Breadway Robbery!

Out of frustration, I drove to a Ralph's market to buy some generic branded crouton bag. For $1.25, you can buy a 6 oz bag of cheap, wimpy, already crumbled, and pathetic looking bread bits. In great fury, struck a mad discovery. I'm going to make my own croutons.

I walked to the bakery section at Ralph's and picked up a loaf of garlic sourdough bread. Aha! $1.99 for a loaf the size of football, with whole cloves of garlic baked into it! I brought it home and let it sit out on my open table over night to have it turn stale.

A loaf of this size was able to fill my entire baking pan in a single even layer. Did I mention the whole cloves of garlic inside already? I seasoned the cubed bread with olive oil, salt, pepper and Italian herbs (any combination of parsley, thyme, rosemary, cheese, paprika, garlic, shallots, onions, etc) and baked them in my oven at 400 F.

I don't think I'm ever going to buy prepared croutons ever again.

Garlic and Cheese? Spicy with a hint of Lime? Lemon Pepper? Herbs? Just name the combination and make it happen!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Recipe: Tiramisu

Of all the cakes and desserts that I could have chosen to learn first, I chose Tiramisu. Not by choice though... It's actually one of my mom's specialties and I adopted it fairly quickly. By the way, there's absolutely no baking involved in making tiramisu. I hate baking. Therefore, I like making tiramisu. Logic works.

Here's an example of a standing tiramisu cake. I made this last year for my girlfriend's birthday. She approved.

This amazing dessert actually comes in many different forms and styles. Urth Cafe in Los Angeles serves a Green Tea and Earl Grey variety, both of which are amazing. Tiramisu is great because it's not a seasonal item, able to be enjoyed year round. This allows for creativity, to create it with your own personality and twist!

I've made tiramisu in cake form, in deep dish form, and in a martini glass as well! It's actually incredibly hard to mess up this dessert, which makes it perfect for me (considering how much I hate baking)! Essentially, it's a coffee soaked biscuit (cookie/cake/etc) served in combination of a flavored marscapone cheese. In fact, I can argue that the marscapone is the star of this entire dessert. So please, don't buy a skim or low fat version of marscapone.

Let's first talk about the "no baking" part of this recipe. That's actually part of a clever marketing scheme, created by me, to make you interested in making this dessert! There's actually no baking involved, ever, in tiramisu! In fact... taking care of the pastry component is by far the easiest task! I recommend using store bought Lady Fingers, Chiffon Cake, or Angel Food Cake as the base of this dessert.

This is also where our paths can slightly deviate! To create a "standing" tiramisu cake, I suggest not using lady fingers for it does not have enough structure to stand on itself. I somewhat inherited an amazing chiffon cake recipe from my mom (ok, I guess I can bake, but I still hate it!) and with it, can bake a large, fluffy, sponge cake shaped to my liking. This personalization in shape, thickness, and structure is needed to allow your cake to stand upright.

Ok so I lied a little bit, you may need to know how to bake if you decide to make a standing cake as shown above. But if you decide to make tiramisu in the classic bowl/dish/glass method, it simplifies the process! This is definitely my go-to-recipe when I'm in need of a dessert. From start to finish, you can have this tiramisu ready in less than three hours!

- Cake/Pastry Base
- Espresso/Green Tea
- 1/4 cup Marsala Wine
- 1/4 cup White Wine
- 1/4 cup Sugar + 1 tbsp for whipping
- 1-4 shots Rum/Brandy/Sake (for the Green Tea variety)
- 4 Egg Yolks
- Chocolate (Dark + Espresso, White + Green Tea for combinations)
- 1 cup Heavy Whipping Cream
- 1 lb Marscapone Cheese
- Cocoa Powder/Green Tea Matcha Powder

- For those of you who want a more fragrant and decadent tiramisu, I suggest adding 1/4 cup more Marsala and 1 more egg yolk (total 5 egg yolks, 1/2 cup marsala).

- Work slow! Temperature is a key factor in this! If you work slow and the ingredients warm up to room temperature, your tiramisu is going to become a slop!
- Skimp out on the Marscapone Cheese! Use the highest quality one you can buy!

Prepare Your Zabaglione

Perhaps the hardest part of this recipe. We must temper and froth our eggs with Marsala and Wine to create zabagalione.

Add your egg yolks, sugar, marsala, and white wine into a large mixing bowl.

Place on top of a double boiler and whisk until you see ribbons. For those of you who have never used the double boiler technique before: Bring a pot filled with 2 inches of water up to a boil. Afterwards, bring the heat down to medium low and place the bowl on top.

The consistency should appear as a medium drip off your whisk and the volume will almost double in size. Once this is done, cover the bowl and chill until cold. This should take 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Prepare Your Cheese

Once your zabaglione is chilled, fold it into your marscapone cheese.

Pastry chefs! Do not yell at me! I know, you're supposed to fold them in batches to keep the fluffy consistency! But I make up for it in the next step! By first folding together the marscapone cheese and zabaglione, we lighten up the mixture for the addition of the next air component!

Whip 1 cup of heavy whipping cream with 1 tbsp of sugar. If you're trying to stretch out or lighten up your cheese mixture, use 2 cups of whipping cream and 2 tsbp of sugar instead.

If you don't have a standing mixer, you can always whisk by hand! 

Be sure that the heavy cream is cold. Warm or room temperature cream will not whip correctly!

Fold the whipped cream into your cheese mixture gently. For those of us trying to make a standing cake, I recommend chilling this cheese mixture for 1 more hour. This firms the mixture up for better cake building.

Prepare Your Cake And Assemble

When I made this tiramisu, I was in desperate need of ingredients. I could not find any quality lady fingers anywhere, so I ended up buying one package of soft lady fingers from Ralphs, and Angel Food Cake. I have two different sets of pictures here, detailing both coffee and green tea varieties.

Layer the bottom of your deep dish.

In this picture above, I did not use enough espresso. I brewed only 2 cups for the entire dessert. I should have doubled this amount. I also prefer using brandy as opposed to white rum as some recipes suggest. 1 Cup of espresso to 1/2 shot of alcohol will do the trick. If using Green Tea, brew Matcha Green Tea (make it potent, with more tea) and add 1/2 shot of sake per cup of tea.

Add in half of your cheese mixture. Make sure to tap your dish onto a towel on your counter to set the cheese mixture and eliminate air pockets. 

Chop chocolate/white chocolate up into bits and layer some on top of your cheese mixture! I prefer high quality dark chocolate, and baking white chocolate (other types of white chocolate melt too quickly when working with it).

Be sure to dust a layer of cocoa powder or matcha powder in between the layers. After assembling, chill your tiramisu for at least 1-2 hours before serving, depending on size. The marscapone zabaglione will firm up, giving a rich, decadent, and fragrant cheese filling. All that's left to do is to serve with a large spoon!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Recipe and Technique: Marinating and Chopping Your Own Carne Asada

A few years ago, I was lost in the vast depths of the internet.  There, I came across a video recipe for carne asada. To my surprise, the chef added oranges to his marinade. I had to pause the video and rewatch it a few times as well as make sure my translation of narajanas was indeed oranges.

I started asking some of my coworkers about the legitimacy of this recipe. Sure enough, they all replied unanimously with agreement. They said that it helps bring out the flavor as well as make the meat more tender. I could understand the flavor component, but I had to disagree with the latter.

It is true that some fruits have a tenderizing agent in the form of enzymes, such as pineapples or kiwis, but acidity alone does not "break down" anything in meat. Instead, the tender consistency of carne asada comes from two entirely different concepts: the specific cut of beef and the chopping of the meat.

(This photo is not mine. I found it on google. I forgot to take pictures of the post-chop meat product, and I'm saving my pictures of another post. Forgive my noob moment.)

On my last visit to my local carniceria, I asked the butcher for his opinion on the best cut of beef to use for carne asada because I saw both marinated ranchera and chuck roll on sale. His personal preference is chuck roll (thinly sliced beef chuck shoulder) because it contained more fat and is juicier. However, ranchera (flap meat) is the traditional cut to use. So why not have the best of both worlds?

After marinating and cooking, I decided to chop the beef into small bits, much like how it is served at Mexican restaurants. My family originally cut the meat into larger strips and pieces simply because it was easier to do. Besides, larger pieces of meat should give a better mouth feel, like eating a piece of grilled steak. Turns out, the high collagen content in these cuts give the meat quite a chew to put down. By chopping up the steak, the tough mouthful works in our favor by not letting the chopped meat taste like ground meat (the "ready to fall apart and crumble" texture). 

After tasting the carne asada, I've come to the conclusion that the orange and lime marinade worked in perfect unison with the texture of the chopped meat. This was accomplished by the slight "pucker" reaction I had when chewing. Imagine yourself eating your favorite sour candy: war heads, sour pop, and all the other childhood favorites. The sour candy is some how able to elicit a "succulent" taste on your tongue. I believe that this same thing is happening with carne asada. The tough chew, chopped consistency, and fragrant lime and orange marinade all come together to help create this feeling that the meat you are eating is incredibly juicy. Or maybe I'm just crazy for thinking so.

1 lb Beef Ranchera 
1 lb Beef Chuck Roll
1 Orange
2 Limes
1/2 Onion
1 tsp Cumin
2 tsp Oregano
Salt and Pepper

-If you have a tin of chipotle peppers, add in one or two into the marinade!
-Use any proportion of beef cuts! I used a 1:1 ratio of beef chuck and ranchera. Beef chuck was half the price/pound, so it is definitely a budget cut!
-If you're unable to get thinly sliced beef chuck roll, cut your own! You're looking for 1/2 inch slices, which is fairly easy to do without exact knife skills.
-Use a grill if you can! It makes the meat so much better! But if you don't have the time, just sear it on a skillet. I used a cast iron skillet for this recipe.
-Reduce the amount of orange and lime to your own taste.

-Use too much lime and orange. I used one whole orange and two limes for a little less than 1.5 pounds of beef. It actually became overwhelming!

The Marinade

You can layer your ingredients or just toss everything into a zip loc bag. It really doesn't matter!

I decided to layer my ingredients to make it fancy. I wouldn't do it again though, it didn't make a difference.

Make sure to marinade this for at least 1 hour! No more than 5 hours!

I was too lazy to set up my charcoal grill, so this cast iron pan will do the trick for me. Make sure you get that delicious sear on your meat. I have here two steaks of ranchera sizzling away.

Honestly, the marinated meat cost the exact same as the unmarinated variety. I would only do this if I had a specific flavor I had in mind, different from the ones available in store. It was definitely worth the experience though. So the next time you show up to a BBQ, bring a giant zip loc bag of carne asada with you. You can never go wrong if you do!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Recipe: Guacamole

Ahhh, guacamole... The pinnacle of chips, dip, and summer past times. There are so many versions and methods of how to make this wonderful dish, but few that actually taste good! Many are too thin, bland, processed, or just plain funky tasting. The #1 crime being committed? Too many ingredients!

Chipotle released their guacamole recipe to the public in the past and it surprisingly contained a minimal amount of ingredients. In fact, it's borderline close to seasoned mashed avocados. And the result? Well, with the amount of people raving about it, it speaks for itself.

To understand why less is more in the case of avocados, let us draw upon some comparisons. When we buy a beautiful piece of steak, the golden rule is to let the meat stand for itself. With salt and pepper as the essentials, some can argue that no more is needed. Salt brings out the flavor combination of meat and fat, whereas pepper, garlic, thyme and other seasonings enhance and augment the flavor profiles. To make amazing guacamole, we simply have to change our view of avocados as a fruit, to avocados as a piece of meat.

Avocados are composed of almost 75% fat, as well as many vitamins supplementing healthy diets. Simply said, treat fats similarly. We will season with salt and pepper, and accent the avocados with fragrance.

Let's take a look at Chipotle's guacamole recipe as a reference:

- Avocado
- Lime Juice
- Cilantro
- Red Onion
- Jalapeño
-  Kosher Salt

Simple says it all. Now how about we improve the recipe and change it to our own liking!

Meet the Molcajete
Made of rock solid basalt, this monster will allow you to demolish and pulverize avocados with the same enjoyment as watching a slice of butter melt atop of a stack of flapjacks.

I picked up this molcajete (left) from Costco for a steal of around $25. On the right is a small mortar and pestle from Home Goods for $8, which will work in a pinch and save space. You just won't be able to make as much in one go

Living in California where the avocados are simply amazing every summer, it was definitely worth investing in the molcajete. I highly suggest doing so!

- 4 Large Ripe Avocados
- 1 tsp Kosher Salt
- 1 tsp Black Pepper
- 1/2 tsp Crushed Red Chili Flakes
- 4 large cloves of Garlic
- Juice of 1/2 a Lime
- 1/4 tsp Cumin
- 1/4 cup chopped Cilantro
- 1/4 cup chopped Red Onion

- Be very careful when adding cumin. It's very potent and can be overwhelming if used incorrectly. Start with a smaller amount and work your way up to your personal tastes. I think this ingredient is essential for a much needed earthy fragrance.
- Use jalapeño instead of crushed red chili flakes if you want to. I've found that jalapeños are always a mixed bag of spice levels, so by using the chili flakes I can control the subtle accent of spice more accurately.
- General rule of thumb: 1 garlic clove per large avocado.

- Juice all of the lime at once. I've found that limes can also have varying levels of potency that can be overpowering also.
- Add tomatoes! I know, it looks pretty and may taste great, but the salt content of guacamole plus the water content of tomatoes will inevitably lead to moisture being drawn out, turning your dip into a sloppy mess!

Mash Away!
Start by adding in your salt, pepper, chili flakes and garlic into your molcajete. The salt and pepper act as an extra abrasive to help mash the garlic, as well as draw out some juices from the garlic cloves.

Grind until you reach a fine, paste-like consistency.

Add in your avocados!

Pulverize! Then add the rest of the ingredients!

I used white onion this time for this recipe because I forgot to buy red onions. So no worries! You can forget also!

Now once everything is mixed together, I highly suggest storing it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This allows all of the flavors to meld, the salt to draw out more flavors from the onions and garlic, and mellow out the sharpness of each individual ingredient! This chill time is also exactly why I am against adding tomatoes. They will simply bleed all of their liquids out and give rise to a wet, sloppy dip! And don't even think about adding sour cream in this. I mean...why?

To store properly, be sure to press plastic wrap on top of the guacamole in an air tight container. This minimizes the amount of air exposure, decreasing the rate of oxidation of avocados. In other words, to prevent rapid browning.